Brains and blood at Stornoway’s Faclan festival

Festival director Roddy Murray
Festival director Roddy Murray
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Friday 30 October, 8pm: and if you’re not already planning on being at An Lanntair in Stornoway, you’re going to miss not just the highlight of this year’s Faclan book festival but one of the most dazzling line-ups of literary medics in the country.

Few who have seen Geoffrey Smith’s Storyville documentary “The English Surgeon” (also to be screened at the festival) could fail to be impressed by the humanity and intelligence of its subject, brain surgeon Henry Marsh. Here is a man, after all, who could easily have rested on his laurels as one of Britain’s finest neurosurgeons; instead, for the last 20 years, in his spare time he has been working pro bono as a one-man medical revolutionary in the Ukraine.

On the verge of retirement last year, he wrote a book, Do No Harm, looking back on his work – not least at the psychic damage it has caused him when operations fail – that shows his skill with the scalpel is matched by a similar skill with the pen.

For Friday’s event, Marsh will be joined Stephen Grosz, whose acclaimed debut The Examined Life takes a lucid look at the brain from the point of view of a practising psychoanalyst. Gavin Francis, the Edinburgh GP and award-winning writer, chairs what is bound to be a fascinating discussion ahead of his own event on Saturday.

Friday’s event is the centrepiece of this year’s Faclan, which is themed around “Blood”. “People might expect it to be some sort of splatterfest of crime, murder and horror,” says festival director Roddy Murray. “But it’s more than that. It’s genealogy, medicine and kinship too. That said, we’re delighted that our local superstar crime writer Malcolm Mackay will be joining us for the first time.”

Murray is that rarity among book festival directors – one who is prepared to admit that in previous years he didn’t always get it right. But after 2011, when Faclan switched from the end of August to the end of October, the programme – supported by screenings of films echoing its chosen theme (Throne of Blood, Badlands, In Cold Blood etc) has been firmly back on track.

The combination of book and film festival isn’t unique – Wordplay in Shetland used to do a something similar – but An Lanntair’s ability to do both, as well as stage related exhibitions (and even, at Halloween, to stage its own Masque of the Red Death club night) add hugely to Faclan’s range. Expect nothing less than a bloody, wonderful weekend.

• Faclan is at An Lanntair, Stornoway, 28-31 October. For a programme of events see